Parallels Between Frank Herbert’s Dune and the Transcendental
I'd love to read the essay, but where is it? :-)
There is no posting limit for the group. Perhaps there is a posting limit associated
with your server. Why don't you break the essay into parts and post it that way? I
should note, that it's unusual for a server to impose such stringent posting
limitations. I may be useful not to send the essay as an "attachment," but to paste
it directly into your message. I hope this helps.
>Whoops.. looks like it was too large to post
Ever thought of posting it in several messages?
> We were required to do an essay / research project in my 10th
Parallels Between Frank Herbert’s Dune and the Transcendental Writing of
Emerson and Thoreau
Frank Herbert’s Dune, intentionally or not, contains numerous
parallels with the tenets of the American Transcendentalism period. The
rationalities contained within Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and Ralph Waldo
Emerson’s Nature and Self-Reliance are closely intertwined with the subtle
undertones contained within the complex plot of Dune. As with Nature and
Walden, all major concepts and philosophies in Dune stem from nature. The
extremely harsh desert environment of Arrakis, or Dune to the native
population, has directly influenced the culture and religion of the
indigenous Fremen. The hero of Dune, Paul Maud’ Dib, conforms closely to
the model set forth by Self-Reliance. Paul is the model ‘transcendental
self’ as described by Emerson. One of the more important aspects of the
Transcendental philosophy is the power of the human mind. Almost every
aspect of Dune is permeated with proof of the near infinite power of the
human mind. As Manlove noted in his analysis of Dune, Dune can simply be
said to be about mind (104).
Nature is the physical basis for all other elements, both physical and
mental in Dune and the Transcendental writings of Thoreau and Emerson.
Environment and material wealth are contained within the natural domain,
while religion and the individual are shaped by it. As Princess Irulan, the
narrator of Dune, writes:
God created Arrakis to train the faithful.
The harsh desert climate of Arrakis, also known as Dune to the local
population, has forced the native Fremen to live a brutal, austere
lifestyle, filled with oppressive manual labor and lacking of superfluous
material possessions. This is not unlike the Spartan-like lifestyle Thoreau
describes in Walden, in “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.” (Abbott
n.p.) As Abbott says in his review of Walden, Thoreau chose to live a
simple life of practical clothing and lacking of amenities (n.p.). Thufir
Hawat, Master of Assassin’s for House Atreides, describes the Fremen to
"Like as not I have seen them," he said. "There's little to tell them from
the folk of the graben and sink. They all wear those great flowing robes.
And they stink to heaven in any closed space. It's from those suits they
wear - call them 'stillsuits' - that reclaim the body's own water."
The Fremen culture has adapted itself perfectly to the harsh desert
environment. The pragmatism of the Fremen attire is significant. The Fremen
stillsuit consists of tubes and catchpockets that reclaim sweat and other
human excrements for the purpose of recycling and reuse by the wearer. The
whole system is powered by hydraulic pumps which are activated by walking.
The stillsuit serves as a metaphor for the Fremen culture: simple and
effective, yet lacking of elegance. The stillsuit is also a symbol of the
self-reliance of the Fremen. When wearing a stillsuit, the Fremen are
somewhat isolated from the desert and are much less susceptible to the
outside environment and the harsh climate of Arrakis.
The Fremen accomplish an incredible amount of work. To them, manual
labor is dignifying. The Fremen respect Dune, while at the same time taming
it, and reaping the resources it sows. The Imperial Planetologist Kynes,
John the Baptist to the Christ-messiah figure Paul Muad’ Dib (Sheppard
270), engineers a massive ecological project for the Fremen to carry out,
designed to change the desert environment of Dune to a more hospitable one.
The project is comparable to Thoreau’s bean planting experiment in Walden.
The Fremen wished to tame the environment to suit their needs, just as
Thoreau wished to alter the soil around his home in Walden to grow beans
rather than the native grass.
Manlove describes Dune as a “giant spice farm.” (104) The Fremen,
unlike the rival House Harkonnen, take to a more Thoreau-esque philosophy
regarding spice mining. They mine for necessity, while the gluttonous
Harkonnens mine for profit. Sustenance is the Fremen goal, rather than
material gain. The Fremen sell excess spice supplies when the need arises,
but it is not their primary goal, much like Thoreau, who sold his excess
bean supplies from his farm at Walden as somewhat of an afterthought.
Krutch explains in his criticism of Walden that one of the main topics
the book tackles is what is meant by living a life close to nature, and the
rewards it offers(n.p.) The Fremen live and die by this philosophy,
immersing themselves in their environment. The Fremen are at dynamic
equilibrium with their desert home, shaping it through their planned
ecological project, and letting it shape them into the fiercest and most
dedicated fighters in the universe. Dune allows only those who embrace
nature to survive (O’Reilly 40-41). The Fremen consume the treasures of the
desert, the spice mélange, and use the great sandworms of Arrakis as
transportation, thereby establishing deep connections between themselves
and the desert.
The duality of the giant sandworms of Arrakis is significant. The
sandworm represents the physical, nature and the environment, while at the
same time the worm symbolizes the spiritual, divine power and eternity.
The sandworm illustrates the relationship between man and nature. The
crysknife, the “Death Maker,” is a crystal tooth from the great sandworm of
Arrakis, the “Maker,” used for ritualistic killing by the fierce Fremen
“...the fabled crysknife of Arrakis, the blade that had never been taken
off the planet, and was known only by rumor and wild gossip.”
“Knife, that's "Death Maker" in Chakobsa.”
The spice is the source of power within the Empire: deathly addictive,
geriatric, and most importantly, the source of Paul Maud’Dib’s prescient
vision. The Imperial Planetologist Liet-Kynes makes the connection between
the sandworms and the spice. Without sandworms, there would be no spice.
Paul recalls what the Planetologist mentioned about the spice-worm
What has the worm to do with the spice, mélange? he asked himself. And he
remembered Liet-Kynes betraying a veiled reference to some association
between worm and spice.
Fremen boys must successfully call and mount a sandworm as a rite of
passage. Paul Maud’ Dib undergoes this initiation trial to prove his
leadership to the Fremen:
I am a sandrider, Paul told himself.
He glanced down at the hooks in his left hand, thinking that he had only to
shift those hooks down the curve of a maker's immense side to make the
creature roll and turn, guiding it where he willed. He had seen it done. He
had been helped up the side of a worm for a short ride in training. The
captive worm could be ridden until it lay exhausted and quiescent upon the
desert surface and a new maker must be summoned.
The Fremen of Arrakis use Maker teeth as weapons, consume the spice mélange
produced by the Maker, and use the Maker itself as their main means of long
distance transportation throughout the desert. The symbiosis of man and
worm is definite.
Warren says that Emerson believed it ‘only reasonable’ that women settle
early on for love and marriage (n.p.). Jessica Atreides, of the Bene
Gesserit Sisterhood, follows this ideal in spite of the loyalty programmed
into her from the Sisterhood. Although she does not marry her love, the
Duke Atreides, she is his bound concubine. She delivers the son he so
desperately desires rather than the daughter required for the Bene Gesserit
breeding scheme. Warren explains that Emerson viewed women only in
relation to man. A woman was there for a man’s comfort and inspiration.
Jessica Atreides fits this description, and puts her Duke above her
Sisterhood’s orders, offering him support during the stressful period in
which he establishes the new regime on Arrakis.
Transcendence begins with solitude and continues with self-reliance.
Paul reaches a literal state of Transcendence when he ingests the Water of
Life, a potent poison derived from a sandworm drowned in water. The Kwisatz
Haderach is the only individual other than a Reverend Mother with the power
to convert the poison to an ingestible drug and avoid death. Paul succeeds
in his task, gaining unimaginable psychic powers in the process. During his
trial, Paul is in solitude in the physical realm, alone in the desert.
After his trial has been completed and the transformation of his mind has
taken place, he is in solitude in the mental realm, in an altered state of
consciousness. Paul is in a paradoxical situation. Paul traps himself
inside a mental prison while changing the Water of Life. He is isolated in
complete solitude, while at the same time is cursed with a view all time
and space, past, present and future. Abbot indicates in his review of
Walden that Thoreau considers nature his religion and universal medicine
and recognizes Walden Pond as his heaven (n.p.). Just as Thoreau lived
alone in his Walden Pond heaven in order to transcend, Paul undergoes his
Water of Life trial in solitude, in his Dune heaven. After beginning
transcendence in solitude, Paul concentrates on self-reliance to strengthen
his power as the Kwisatz Haderach.
Emerson firmly believed that one must be independent of external influences
to live a truly meaningful life. As Warren noted in his criticism of
Emerson’s Self-Reliance, Emerson felt self-reliance meant trusting one’s
own instinct without religious, governmental, or social and economical
biases. Paul Maud’Dib’s extreme self-reliance becomes apparent when his
actions are observed. Paul’s unusual ability to trust his instincts and
intuitions above all doubt are illustrated when Paul dons a Fremen
stillsuit and desert apparel the ‘proper’ Fremen way without prior
Kynes straightened, stepped back with a puzzled expression. "You've worn a
stillsuit before?" he asked.
"This is the first time."
"Then someone adjusted it for you?"
"Your desert boots are fitted slip-fashion at the ankles. Who told you to
"It . . . seemed the right way."
"That it most certainly is."
Paul was not externally influenced by religion, as he instituted his own
religion with a fiercely loyal Fremen following. The Fremen embark on a
Jihad in Muad’ Dib’s name exterminating numerous other religions along with
billions of followers. Governmental boundaries were shattered by Paul as
well. With the help of his fanatical Fremen warriors, Paul overthrows the
traditional Imperial government, becoming Emperor himself. In the process
of overthrowing the government, Paul and the Fremen gain total control of
Arrakis, monopolizing the spice trade. This puts Paul in a powerful
position of total religious, political, and economic control. His self-
reliance is near absolute.
Abbot, Collamer M., a review of Walden in The Explicator,” Winter, 1998, pp
74-77. DISCovering Authors. Gale Group, 1999. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale
Group. December, 2000. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/SRC. This essay
discusses Thoreau’s desire to be an individual, as well as “an uncommon man
different from conventional beings.” It states that Thoreau considers
nature his religion, and Walden Pond is his sanctuary and his heaven. The
author states that Thoreau’s life is one of Spartan simplicity, with a
simple diet, and free of many common amenities.
Child, Lydia Maria. (1854) “Thoreau’s Walden,” in Thoreau: A Century of
Criticism, Southern Methodist University Press, 1954, pp. 8-11. This essay
is a criticism of Walden. It discusses the idea that all of the
accomplishments of Western civilization, material improvements, commercial
enterprise, and the rapid accumulation of wealth are overrated. It tells of
how Walden is about individualism. Man must obey his own genius, and will
infinitely serve other men by doing so, rather than exhaust his efforts
meeting the expectations of others.
Gerber, John C., “Ralph Waldo Emerson,” Reference Guide to American
Literature, 3rd edition, edited by Jim Kamp, St. James Press, 1994.
DISCovering Authors. Gale Group, 1999. Reproduced in Student Resource
Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group. December 2000.
http://www.galenet.com/servlet/SRC. Gerber’s analysis of Emerson’s writing
discusses Emersons belief of the natural and supernatural as two different
levels of reality. The essay also analyzes Emerson’s philosophy that
nature, although serving as commodity, beauty, language, and discipline,
really exists to offer inspiration and mystical experiences to man.
Krutch, Joseph Wood, in his Henry David Thoreau, 1948. Reprint by William
Morrow and Company, Inc., 1974, 298 p. DISCovering Authors. Gale Group,
1999. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group. December, 2000.
http://www.galenet.com/servlet/SRC. This excerpt from a criticism on
Thoreau discusses the mean themes of Walden. These themes are mainly what
the book is concerned with, and include the life of quiet desperation which
most men lead, the economic fallacy which is responsible for the situation
many men find themselves in, the rewards that come from living a life close
to nature, and the “higher laws” which man must follow to reach
Manlove, C. N. “Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)” Science Fiction: Ten
Explorations, The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1986, pp. 101-108. The essay
describes the relationship of the mental and physical in Dune. The author
repeatedly states the importance of mind to Dune, and how it relates to
several of the more important characters and factions.
O’Reilly, Timothy. Frank Herbert. Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc.,
1981. This novel studies all of Herbert’s work, concentrating on the
themes and ideas presented in Dune. It discusses the central ideas of Dune,
the traditional hero, religion, and human transcendence. The relationship
between nature and religion is discussed, as religion is often derived from
nature. Herbert’s mindset of embracing nature as a means of survival is
Ower, John. Criticism of Dune. Contemporary Literary Criticism, 12: 273-
275. This essay describes the Arrakeen sandworm as a source of divine
energy. The author describes the relationship of the spice, the worm, and
Paul’s prophetic powers. The development of Paul’s mental-psychic powers is
also discussed in detail.
Sheppard, R. Z. (1971) Criticism of Dune. Contemporary Literary Criticism,
12: 270-72. This essay describes Dune as a successful science fiction
novel with ideas relevant to public concerns. It states that the novel
contains ideas relating to the power of mysticism. The essay also mentions
the research Herbert put into Dune, which had extensive information on
desert ecology, history, and desert cultures. The extensive growth and
planting project planned for the planet Dune is not unlike Thoreau’s bean
planting project, on a larger scale.
Warren, Joyce W., “Transcendentalism and the Self: Ralph Waldo Emerson,” in
The American Narcissus: Individualism and Women in Nineteenth-Century
American Fiction, Rutgers University Press, 1984, pp. 23-53. DISCovering
Authors. Gale Group, 1999. Reproduced in Student Resource Center.
Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group. December, 2000.
http://www.galenet.com/servlet/SRC/. This essay discusses the topic of
gender roles in Emerson’s writing. His emphasis of self-reliance is
mentioned. Emerson’s belief that men were destined for transcendence while
women were designed to support men in this role is discussed.
Thanks for the split posts and to Lord Byron for suggesting that course
of action to you. A good read.
> When wearing a stillsuit, the Fremen are
> somewhat isolated from the desert and are much less susceptible to the
> outside environment and the harsh climate of Arrakis.
I also though the inclusion of references to other Dune essays was refreshing.
We've heard a lot about Nietzsche and "Dune," so it's nice to hear about an
alternative interpretive approach involving a modern philosophy. :-)